EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A team's thinking can change with five games remaining, a soon-to-be 38-year-old quarterback and a less than 0.1 percent chance to make the playoffs. More so than usual, there has to be a focus on the future rather than the present.
For the New York Giants (3-8), that means potentially replacing Eli Manning as the starting quarterback at some point in the final month of the season, as their quest to avoid “quarterback hell” continues. In fact, Dec. 9 against the struggling Washington Redskins should be a good jumping-off point.
Coach Pat Shurmur might be tired of hearing about playing rookie Kyle Lauletta, but this will be the latest test for the first-year regime.
“You gotta think of some other questions. My goodness,” Shurmur snapped after being asked about balancing mathematical elimination with the need to get younger players, such as Lauletta, some game experience. “You go into every week with giving your team the best opportunity to win the football game each week. That's how you do this thing. This isn't player tryout. This is do everything in your power to win the next game. And we just happen to be -- today's Monday, so we're in the Monday phase of that process."
Lauletta is waiting patiently -- he hasn't dressed for a game this season -- after being selected in the fourth round in April. He has spent most of the season working with the practice squad, but he believes he’s ready should the opportunity arise.
Shurmur made it clear Monday that backup Alex Tanney is also part of the equation.
“Why are you jumping over Tanney?” Shurmur said.
He later added: “If we felt like he was giving us the best chance to win … I would just say this -- based on doing what quarterbacks do -- all along, [Tanney has] been our No. 2 guy. Aside from the fact that Kyle was drafted in the fourth round, all along, [Tanney has] been our No. 2 guy. He does the things that we think can help us win a game.”
Winning games remains the priority. Shurmur insists it's about determining who gives the Giants the best chance to win on a weekly basis.
Manning has been declared the starter this week against Chicago and its ferocious defense. That’s probably best for everyone involved. Throwing a rookie into the fire against that defense would seem to be a bad idea, and Tanney’s one game of professional experience wouldn’t be much better.
If this week goes poorly -- as recent history with the Giants' offensive line and Manning facing a dominant defensive front suggests -- installing Lauletta as the starter against the Redskins would make sense. Washington's defense has allowed more than 400 yards in three of its past four games. The Redskins also haven’t been able to stop the run, which could take the pressure off a young and experienced quarterback in his first start.
If not next week for Lauletta, then the following weeks against the Titans and Colts would seem to be reasonable options.
Week 17 at MetLife Stadium against the Cowboys should be reserved for a potential Manning send-off. He deserves it after 15 successful seasons and two Super Bowl titles. Manning is signed through the 2019 season, but the Giants can get out of his deal with minimal financial backlash after this season.
Forget Tanney as well. The Giants are saying “who knows?” about him as a potential long-term answer at the most important position on the field. That’s the equivalent of banking on winning the lottery. It seems to be more dream than reality when it comes to a 31-year-old quarterback on his eighth team.
It’s Lauletta who makes more sense. The Giants invested a draft pick in him and want to get him some game action in this lost season. The more information the better, as the Giants will head into this offseason having to address the long-term status of their quarterback position.
How does Lauletta handle pressure? How does he bounce back from mistakes? What corrections is he able to make on a week-to-week basis? Can he make all the throws? Is there any natural chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley? There is plenty to learn by getting Lauletta some experience.
Manning himself has said that there is no substitute for learning on the field as a rookie. He took his lumps in 2004 and used them as a stepping stone for a potential Hall of Fame career. The Giants would be missing an opportunity if they didn’t do the same for Lauletta, no matter that he was a much later draft pick. They have nothing to lose with the NFL’s fifth-worst record through 12 weeks.
What they don’t want to do is make the same mistake as last year, when 2017 third-round pick Davis Webb sat and watched while Manning was temporarily benched for Geno Smith. Manning was then reinserted as the starter for the remaining four games of a 3-13 campaign.
Webb is now on the Jets' practice squad.
“At the point where our season was, it made sense to at least see what we had in the other two guys,” co-owner John Mara said earlier this year after hiring Shurmur as coach. “I want to forget about that, so stop bringing it up. It was something that was mishandled, and I’ve taken responsibility for that. It falls on my shoulders. I wish we would’ve gotten a little more of a look at Davis Webb.”
The same mistake two years in a row would be incomprehensible. The Giants appear to have three weeks after the Bears game to prove they learned from it.